Traveling to the Homeland a study abroad experience in Ireland

Traveling to Ireland last summer was the result of many causes, yet I knew little of the effect that it would have on me, and continues to have on me. A crash course in Irish culture, mythology and ecology was what I was hoping for during this study abroad experience but as I continued on my journey after my brief stay in Ireland I left with many more questions, which as any teacher recognizes is the sign of learning. This short project is an attempt to connect, and create intersections concerning many of the things I learned while there, with the lingering questions that still haunt me. It is my first attempt to communicate the visible and invisible (sense of place and presence) connections through history, culture, language and geography of Ireland and Hawai'i.

Photos: Mountain peaks in Ireland, Irish shamrocks and the Ko'olau mountain range.
Irish rock boundary walls similar to the menehune walls that scatter parts of the neighbor islands, especially on Maui.
Rock wall in 'Ulupalakua, Maui -- often referred to as menehune walls.


The west coast of Ireland is similar to many of the rugged shorelines that face the Hawaiian Islands like these in Kona, Hawai'i (on the right). Known as the Wild Atlantic Way in the north, this 2,500 km driving and walking trail (the Cliffs of Moher, on the left) is a popular tourist attraction peppered with cultural sights and breathtaking vistas.


Ireland is made up of all types of rock formations but mostly granite, limestone and sandstone. The oldest portions of Ireland are found in the north in County Donegal, starting 1.7 billion years ago, and spread southernly reaching into County Cork.

Aerial photo of Ireland and Northern Ireland

Prehistoric Ireland

Passageway tombs -- Knowth -- many align with equinox sunrises and sunsets.

As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the burial sites of neolithic Ireland found at Newgrange and Knowth are popular tourist sites not only for their sheer size, the largest mound is a little over one (1) acre with 97 kerbstones (see close up below) that line its circumference. Along with other indigenous cultures, Irish ancestors also carved nature-based images into rocks. After forty years of continuous study, little is known about these structures, their solar alignments or how

Tri-spiral designs cover the outer surfaces of these kerbstones. It is still not clearly known what these symbols mean or how they represent the natural world.
Interior kerbstone with pronounced carvings.
Vantage point from the megalithic mounds. Strategic for agriculture and the presence of attacks.
The River Boyne contains many stories of Irish myth and runs along a path a many sacred sites.

Hawaiians and Water

Water or wai, and water systems are of particular importance to Native Hawaiians not only as a replenishing resource but as a marker of land divisions in ahupua'a systems. The concept of water for Native Hawaiians were not taken lightly since fresh water was such and still remains a treasured life source. It is also important to recognize that many water features, rivers, grottos, lakes and ponds, mirror both Irish and Hawaiian sacred sites as many other indigenous and ancient populations revered a valued resource.

Another example of this importance is depicted in the famous Battle of the Boyne (1690) in the video below--a monumental battle between Protestants and Catholics. This area of eastern Ireland is also home to the Hill of Tara, the high seat of Celtic Kings, and many other ancient folktales and myths.

Hawaiian Petroglyphs

As with many ancient art forms, the messages and images are still unclear after many decades of research. This is both true of Hawaiian and Irish carvings.

The geological history of Hawai'i started 28 million years ago with volcanic eruptions resulting in the creation of Kure Atoll. This early atoll was caused by the Pacific Plate moving over a hot spot in the Earth's mantle.

Aerial photo of the Hawaiian Islands.

Major events in Irish history and their connections to Hawai'i

• Celts (500 B.C.) -- the 1st civilization in Ireland: pagan, natural gods, worshipped the sun and had a vibrant art and storytelling culture.

An early Celtic weave pattern found in many artifacts throughout western Britain and Ireland.
Many of these ancient forms have been depicted in modern knitting patters that depict professions like farming and fishing or the qualities of the wearer or even a wish like safety, abundance and hope.

Lauhala and kapa patterning depicts natural forms much like Celtic knotting and knitting patterning.

•432 A.D. marks the arrival of St. Patrick and the conversion to Christianity for many Celts. This was a slow and steady process utilizing many pagan traditions but placed within a Christian framework and using Christian themes of teaching.

Sacred Sites for Pagan and eventual Christian worshippers

St. Patrick's Grotto or Well--there are over 3,000 of these in Ireland--was once known as a pagan site of worship. This one happens to be in Ballyshannon and was used by the pre-Christian Irish. These locations were praised for their spiritual connections to the 'otherworld' and a source of communication. By typing a personal item, like a piece of clothing, to the Wishing (or sometimes called Rag) Tree, descendants could communicate with their ancestors. As Catholic practices spread across Ireland, these pagan sites were incorporated into Christian tradition of altars and candle lighting.
Close up of a Wishing Tree.

Missionaries and the Proliferation of Christianity in Hawai'i

Similar to the work of St. Patrick hundreds of years earlier, Christian missionaries started arriving in Hawai'i in 1820 to spread their word. In order to convert the native population they developed Hawaiian into its first iteration of the written form followed by its publication in a printing press they brought with them from Massachusetts.

Photos: Printing press in the Hawaiian Mission Houses Museum and the first printed page in a Hawaiian primer (1822).

National Heroes/Iconic Figures

•9th century brought the invasion of Vikings and the blending of Scandinavian and Celtic culture despite the violent looting and raids by the Vikings. These invasions would be launched through many of the rivers along Ireland's eastern coast.

Brian Boru united the Irish clans to fight off the Vikings for the last time in the 11th century. He would become the first national hero of Ireland.
Herb Kane's Battle of Nu'uanu Pali has an eerie similarity to Hugh Frazer's Battle of Clontarf (1826) painting.

King Kamehameha I united the Hawaiian Islands in 1795 mirrors much of the national pride and symbolism Brian Boru has in Ireland.

King Kamehameha I

British Invasion and the Colonization of Ireland: Organized Displacement and Emigration

•16th and 17th centuries brought the conquest of the British crown into Ireland. Henry VIII implemented the colonization of the northern parts of Ireland by removing Catholic practices and land ownership through the Plantation of Ulster. This strategy organized the forcible removal of Celtic landowners and replaced them with English and Scottish lords and farmers.

Plantation System

•The Plantation of Ulster forced the Irish to become tenants in their own homes. In many instances the English and Scottish new landowners would have to take on Irish workers since there were not enough people to work the fields. The influx of English and Scottish settlers was an attempt to Anglicize the barbarians of Ireland and break up their tribal systems. In the end, the plantation system was effective in Irish displacement rather than their religious conversion.

The westward expansion of the English and Scottish into Ireland began in Donegal and followed down into Cavan. Gaelic lords and farmers were displaced by these new settlers.

As a means of providing greater access to food and jobs, the Plantation of Ulster later was a means to remove the Irish and displace their power and connection to the land. This was ultimately successful as much of this area became the eventual partition of Northern Ireland, a region of the United Kingdom. The Irish in this area moved south, emigrated to North America or died due to the eventual famine in the mid-1800s also known as An Gorta Mór or the Great Potato Famine.

Plantation System in Hawai'i

Following the Bayonet Constitution (1887) and the eventual workings of the Big Five, the plantation systems in Hawai'i were an indirect displacement of Native Hawaiians with the insurgence of settler populations from parts of Asia and Europe.

The Committee of Safety in 1893 prior to the overthrow of Lili'uokalani.

The indentured servants in Hawai'i did not have the luxury of many of the early English and Scottish plantation landowners in Ireland with established farms and a chance at owning land until 2nd and 3rd generations. Also like the displaced Irish in these northern counties, Native Hawaiians suffered at the hands of outsiders resulting in not only the decimation of their population due to disease but longer standing colonial issues surrounding identity and loss of political power.

Sugar plantation crops in Hawai'i were very profitable for the Big Five until labor strikes and statehood prevented the indentured servant model to fail.

Like many of the Scottish and English that settled into Ireland, plantation workers and eventually their children settled into life in Hawai'i. Ethnic and cultural practices brought from home were shared and intermarriage further embedded these practices across the islands.

Modern Day Ireland

Ireland and Northern Ireland: two countries divided by history, language and religion.

The Troubles: 1969 - 1997

The border town of Londonderry or Derry depicts the Troubles across the walls of government housing.

The fight for civil rights and unification of the Irish Republic is often a bloody and complex time in Irish history. Shortly after Ireland's pivotal cry for independence in 1916 with the Easter Rising, they launched into a war of independence from 1919-1921. The eventual independence of Ireland required British forces to exit and create a blockade at the borders of the two countries in 1922.

Much of the Troubles involved guerrilla war tactics on behalf of the civil rights activists and citizens that lived along the border. Born out of a dream of uniting the two countries, these activists eventually mobilized into organized groups: the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA).


Border of Northern Ireland and Ireland (1980s)

The 1998 Belfast Agreement would allow for a peaceful future for both countries.

A symbol of peace between two countries, this sculpture stood since 1999 when the borders were demilitarized. Recently it was destroyed and many believe it is because of a post-BREXIT Northern Ireland. More on this event is located in the link below:
The division of Ireland and Northern Ireland

Hawaiian Sovereignty Movement

Advertiser photo of protest from January 17, 1993 marking the 100 anniversary of the illegal overthrow of Queen Lili'uokalani.

Much of the movements framed around sovereignty for Native Hawaiians have focused on their attempts to gain self-determination. Some of these attempts have involved using International Law, grassroots efforts and the creation of office and organizations within state government to achieve some semblance of native identity and rule through government. Unlike Ireland, there are no borders rather the complexities of nationhood is buried within the land and through the relationships and agreements made before Hawaiians had any agency to choose. These are best depicted in the military and academic research.

Bundoran, Donegal, Ireland

Seaside town of Bundoran, home to the last train stop of the Northern Ireland Rail, now defunct after the many years of The Troubles.
As the jewel of Donegal Bay, Bundoran has served as a place of respite for many Irish travelers dating as far back as the Victorian era. In recent years it has become popular for its recreational sports like surfing, and ropes courses.
Many of the sea cliffs in Bundoran are similar to the cliffs found on east Oahu in areas like Makapu'u and Hanauma Bay.
Seaweed was never considered a resource to the Irish as a food source.

Surfing in Ireland

The deep connection of Ireland and Hawai'i was made by a man that never went to Ireland. Described as a soul surfer, the story of George Freeth, Jr. and his contributions to surfing run deep.

Born on Oahu in 1883 to a part-Hawaiian mother and Irish father, George Freeth, Jr. trained the young Duke Kahanamoku in swimming and surfing. Freeth's eventual passion was realized with the development of lifeguarding and ocean rescues. His skills were so profound that Henry Huntington, of the famed Huntington Beach development, sought out Freeth's skills to develop lifeguarding on his newly developed resort town in Los Angeles. Unfortunately he did not get to realize much of his work as he died in the Spanish Flu that sweep through the U.S. in 1919. He is buried in Oahu Cemetery on Oahu.

The history of George Freeth in the film Waveriders is found at the 5 minute mark.

Identity, Nationhood and Conflict

William Shakespeare's play Henry V (1599) makes note of the challenges facing the diverse and conflicted U.K. when MacMorris, an Irish captain in King Henry's troop, proclaims the lack of control in many of the British occupied lands:

"My nation? What is my nation? It’s a villain and a bastard and a coward and a rascal. What is my nation? Who talks of my nation?"

The complexities of nationhood for the Irish reveal in MacMorris' line that the state of dependency and lack of self-control has made his home country undefinable and detached. This debate ripples out into many areas that I continue to question. While in Ireland there were many questions and debates about the upcoming Brexit vote. What would it mean for these two bordering countries that seemingly moved beyond many of it conflicts after the Belfast Agreement in 1998? In terms of identity, what would this vote mean for a European identity? These questions are starting to be answered but much of it is still raw after the surprising and infamous vote results in June.

A second set of questions emerged during the U.S. Presidential election. Much like the queries of Irish identity, I and many other Americans, wondered what if? These were answered on November 7, 2016 with the election of Donald J. Trump. I many ways, I feel as Shakespeare's character MacMorris feels, what is my nation? What has happened? Who are we? Increasingly feeling disconnected from a voting base that elected Trump, I wonder what will happen as we move into this new shift in vision and power. It feels villainous and I'm not sure where to look for guidance...

Language Survival

Many Irish maintained their native Gaelic throughout their fight for independence. Once they were able to secure self-government, Gaelic signage and learning increased. Surprisingly, modern day Gaelic has a 2,000 year continuity in describing their environment. Today, many Irish understand rudimentary Gaelic although they make not speak it fluently. In many primary schools in northwest Ireland like Donegal, children are only taught in Gaelic for up to their first 3 years of schooling and have a strong foundation of it until the ages of 12 - 14.

As with other native peoples around the world, including Hawaiians, Gaelic speakers use place names to describe the land and its features.

A graffiti mural outside my hotel in Bundoran and the actual Benbulbin mountain that mesmerized W.B. Yeats.
The northern side of Benbulbin.

"Ben Bulben", "Benbulben", and "Benbulbin" are all anglicizations of the Irish name "Binn Ghulbain". "Binn" means "peak" or "mountain", while "Ghulbain" means beak or jaw in Irish. The literal translation is therefore "beak" or "jaw" peak. I could not help but think about many of the mountains, winds and rains that were named by Hawaiians because of their features or sounds.

Hawaiian Immersion Schools

Starting in 1983 with the development of the grassroots organization 'Aha Pūnana Leo, Inc. launching the movement for Hawaiian language schools despite many initial legal battles. Today there are twenty-three (23) Hawaiian immersions in the state.

I hope you enjoyed the start of these connections.


Created with images by NASA Goddard Photo and Video - "Ireland" • Unsplash - "ireland mountains landscape" • kaleen - "klee shamrocks luck" • opapaty - "hawaii kualoa ranch mountain" • marybettiniblank - "stone wall ireland stone" • Michael 1952 - "Map Of Ireland" • brosner - "Cliff of Mohers" • WasifMalik - "Hawaii Big Island Kona Hilo 401" • NASA Goddard Photo and Video - "Ireland" • Qole Pejorian - "Newgrange Entrance Stone" • Calsidyrose - "Groovy Petroglyphs" • oatsy40 - "Wishing Tree" • cliff1066™ - "King Kamehameha I" • fraubine - "donegal ireland coast"

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